We’re back for more. The end of Alpha was not the end of the project!

Readability Guidelines is continuing as a Beta until week of 18 December. We’ll focus on finding evidence to answer the readability questions uncovered in Alpha. We’ll also be thinking more about audience labels and writing about people respectfully and inclusively.

Usability evidence hunt begins

And already we’ve passed week 2. In the first week some brilliant volunteer super-contributors stepped up. Thank you! We picked out the usability questions from the previous 10 weeks that we need evidenced answers for. We shortlisted topics.

In week 2 we dived right in to look for existing evidence – legally recognised guidance, usability studies and academic papers – to answer these questions:

  1. Can we identify some evidence for plain language being more user-friendly?
  2. Can we identify evidence for simple sentence construction being more user-friendly?
  3. Is there a tool to test a word against reading age 9/low literacy level vocabulary?

Defining complexity

We found some pretty good evidence for clear, simple language, including the UN Convention on Human Rights.
We also defined sentence complexity as dependent on:

  • the number of clauses in a sentence, the more clauses the more complex it is
  • word order – how easy or difficult it is for the brain to parse a phrase, that is to recognise, group and take meaning from words that together convey meaning

and found scientific evidence that yes, more complex sentences do take more brain power to process.

Have a look at the updated plain English wiki article and the new sentence structure wiki article for the full findings.

Designing for low literacy

Regarding a magic tool to reflect the literacy level required to understand a word, we made little progress. There was some debate on Twitter about whether individual words can be segregated, with context being all-important to understanding.

That said, it’s likely that a 9 year old would not know the word “discombobulation”, for example. So, write for a 9 year old using your best judgement, and test with your users.

This is a good time to point out what we’re creating together is only guidance. The Readability Guidelines are intended to steer the content in the right direction. They complement user testing. They in no way replace it.

Topics, community stats and a hashtag

A last thing we’ve done in Beta is add Slack channels for each topic so people – you, you! – can comment on a topic in Slack at any time, as well as on the wiki.

In the live Slack chat on plain English we had representation from higher education, charity, private and public sectors. We have at least 10 volunteer super-contributors. And we now have over 300 of you bobbing about in the Slack workspace.

Plus we now have a hashtag, #ReadabilityGuidelines. Please use it when you talk about readability topics on Twitter or LinkedIn, to help share this collaborative project as widely as we can.

In Week 3 on Slack we’re talking specialist terms – should there be different guidance for audiences with assumed knowledge? We’ve already found a thesis on simplified technical English and an NNg article. Come and join in!

How to get involved

Over to you… Please:

  • follow #ReadabilityGuidelines on Twitter and LinkedIn
  • join the conversation on Slack: – invite to join: https://bit.ly/2D0OW1F
  • read the wiki pages and Slack channel summaries to find out where we’re up to
  • share usability studies and academic research evidence on the topic’s wiki discussion page or Slack channel
  • become a super-contributor: research a topic and lead a live 30 minute Slack discussion, you choose when
  • share this update!